Photoshop Elements 13 vs PhotoDirector 6 Ultra comparison

Every year in the run-up to Christmas, two of the big photo-editing heavyweights go head to head in competing for our attention – and cash. Somewhat confusingly, there are several different versions of PhotoDirector 6, but at £80 the CyberLink PhotoDirector 6 Ultra edition reviewed here is a direct competitor with Adobe’s Photoshop Elements 13 (also £80), so here’s our comparison of these leading photo-editing rivals.

Photoshop Elements 13 vs PhotoDirector 6 Ultra comparison: New Features

When a program gets to version 13 there’s not a lot of entirely new features waiting to be added, so the emphasis with recent versions of Photoshop Elements has mostly been on refining existing features.

One of the most powerful features in Photoshop Elements is Photomerge, which helps you to combine elements from multiple photos within a single image. This has now been refined with more precise selection tools that make it even easier to select complex elements – including entire people – from one photo and then add them to another. Even basic features such as the Crop tool have been fine-tuned, now displaying previews of four different crop settings for you to choose from. But, just to show that Adobe hasn’t completely run out of ideas, Photoshop Elements does gain one completely new feature and now provides the ability to personalise your Facebook profile by creating a custom cover photo for the main heading of your profile page.

PhotoDirector hasn’t been around for quite so long, so it’s still adding new features with each update. A major addition this time around is the new Panorama tool that allows you to stitch multiple landscape shots together to produce a seamless ‘surround view’ panorama. There’s nothing original about this, of course, but the Panorama tool in PhotoDirector is easy to use and does a good job of filling in the gaps between overlapping or poorly aligned shots. We particularly like that photos can be a mixture of landscape or portrait shots, and that they don’t have to be in a horizontal or vertical line. You could take a 4×2 grid, and PhotoDirector will figure out where each fits and stitch them together.

There’s also a new Photo Composer, similar to the merge feature in Photoshop Elements, that allows you to take elements from one photo and insert them into another. However, Photoshop Elements does a better job of explaining how this feature works, and our initial attempts with PhotoDirector quickly had us looking through the program’s help files for assistance.

There are some under-the-bonnet improvements in this version of PhotoDirector as well. OpenCL support means that the program can use your PC’s graphics card to speed up many tasks, and Cyberlink also gives you 20GB of free online storage for backing up your photos.

Photoshop Elements 13 vs PhotoDirector 6 Ultra comparison: Getting Organised

Before you can start work on your photos you’ll quite obviously need to import them onto your PC and to organise them so that you can quickly find the photos you need. Photoshop Elements includes a separate program – the appropriately named Organizer – for this task. The Organizer’s interface is similar to that of Photoshop Elements itself, with a set of tabs running across the top of the screen that provide access to different sets of tools. The Media tab lets you quickly scroll through your entire photo library, and includes options for creating albums, adding ratings, or keywords – such as ‘holiday’ – that will help you to quickly locate specific sets of photos.

Organizer runs in the background and offers to import photos whenever you insert a removable drive or memory card containing photos, but you can disable this behaviour if you prefer.

The People tab allows Organizer to scan through your photos and identify your friends’ faces, while the Places tab uses GPS location data to display photos alongside a map of the location where they were taken. Finally, there’s the Events tab, which automatically groups together photos that were taken on the same date or time, such as a birthday part or a sports event.

PhotoDirector’s organising tools aren’t quite as extensive, but they’re quick and easy to use, and are built into PhotoDirector itself rather than into a separate program. PhotoDirector uses most of its screen space to display your photos, putting all its editing and organising tools into a panel that runs down the left-hand side of the screen. Click on the Library tab at the top of this panel and you’ll see options for creating albums and adding keywords. You can also create Smart Collections, which automatically locate photos using criteria such as rating or date, and can even locate photos that use specific camera settings, such as shutter speeds, or a flash on night-time shots. There’s a face-recognition option similar to that of Photoshop Elements, but PhotoDirector doesn’t have a Places option that can use GPS data to display your photos on map. However, that’s probably not a make-or-break feature unless you take most of your photos on a smartphone which automatically geotags your images – few digital cameras have this capability.

 Photoshop Elements 13 vs PhotoDirector 6 Ultra comparison: Adjustments

Once you’ve located a photo using PhotoDirector’s Library tab, the next step is to click the Adjustment tab in order to enhance the appearance of your photos. The tool panel on the left of the screen then switches modes in order to display the various adjustment tools. This long, scrolling panel looks a bit cluttered, though, and could be confusing for less experienced users. Right at the top of the tool panel there’s a histogram that probably won’t mean anything to newcomers, and beneath that are two sets of tools for ‘regional adjustment’ and ‘global adjustment’. The regional adjustment tools allow you to modify specific regions within an image, with standard features such as a crop tool and red-eye removal. However, options such as the gradient mask and radial filter soon sent us searching through the program’s help files once more.

Some of the Global Adjustment tools are a little more straightforward, with simple slider controls for adjusting settings such as exposure, brightness, and colour balance. There’s also a useful ‘adjustment brush’ that provides finer control by allowing you to apply these adjustments to specific parts of an image. But scroll down the list a little and you’ll come across more complex tools, such as tonal curves and HDR adjustments, that provide very little help for the everyday smartphone snapper. The tool panel does include some useful presets that allow you to apply specific effects with a single click, but PhotoDirector may still seem rather daunting to novices.

In contrast, Photoshop Elements really goes out of its way to ease you into the photo-editing process. It places three tabs at the top of the screen, labelled Quick, Guided and Expert. Newcomers can click on the Quick tab to see a basic set of tools for adjusting exposure, colour and other settings, while the Guided tab gives you a step-by-step introduction to some of the program’s more advanced tools. There are guides that show you how to remove scratches and blemishes, as well as for popular photographic techniques such as the hazy Orton Effect. PhotoDirector includes many of the same tools, but Photoshop Elements really gets top marks for the help that it offers new users.

Photoshop Elements 13 vs PhotoDirector 6 Ultra comparison: Filters And Effects

The fashion these days is to jazz up your photos with filters and other effects. Photoshop Elements really goes to town here. In addition to standard effects such as black-and-white and sepia-tone, there are dozens of artistic effects that make your photos look like hand-drawn paintings and sketches, and distortion effects that you can use to create caricatures and funny faces. There’s even a special Filter Gallery that allows you to fine-tune settings such as the thickness of brush strokes on the artistic filters.

PhotoDirector is a little untidy here, but arguably offers better presets. Its Photo Effects menu lists a mere handful of options such as sepia, tint, and black-and-white. However, if you go back to the Presets menu in Adjustment mode you’ll find a number of options that any other program would refer to as ‘filters’. These include effects such as ‘yesteryear’ and ‘retro’, and the pop-art Lomo effect. However, it’s not always obvious what these effects are doing – beginners won’t understand terms like ‘split-toning’. There’s a more extensive range of filters and effects available in Photoshop Elements, but neither editor is as quick or easy as using Instagram or any of its copies, especially if you like to add borders.

Photoshop Elements 13 vs PhotoDirector 6 Ultra comparison: Power Tools

When you’ve got the hang of using the standard adjustment tools and filter effects you may want to experiment with some of the more advanced editing tools found in these programs. Photoshop Elements has an unfair advantage here, as it is able to borrow a number of powerful tools from the professional version of Photoshop.  

Click on the Expert tab in Photoshop Elements and you are presented with a new workspace containing an extensive tool palette. A key feature here is the Quick Selection tool, which allows you to select fine details within your photos, such as the outline of a flower or a person’s hair. You can also create ‘layers’ and copy selections into different layers in order to create multi-layered composite images. Using layers also allows you to move and edit individual elements separate from the rest of the image, perhaps enhancing the brightness of a person or object in the foreground in order to add emphasis.

PhotoDirector isn’t really in the same league here. It does have some useful tools for working with portraits, such as a wrinkle remover and the ability to enhance skin tones. Its Photo Merge features also make it easy to combine elements from multiple photos, while the Bracket HDR option will appeal to more experienced photographers who want fine control over exposure and lighting. One useful feature is the ability to swap faces from a selection of similar photos, ideal when you have a group of people and there’s no single photo where everyone is smiling and unblinking.

However, PhotoDirector doesn’t support layers, so doesn’t allow you to drill down and manipulate individual elements within your photos in the same way as Photoshop Elements. Its selection tools tend to focus on specific tasks, such as removing background elements from photos, so you don’t have the same degree of editing freedom as Photoshop Elements.